Looking different 

By Alena Nöckler; December 2022

InterCultural and Language project, RPK24 Phayao Thailand

Picture: Rajaphajanughok 24 school, Phayao

December is my fourth month in Thailand. I have been here for quite a while, but one thing I have never been able to get used to is the unusual attention that is paid to us.

The week before Christmas, my fellow volunteers and I participated in Sports Day in Chiang Kham and it was here that I realized again how much our appearance stands out. Even when we were bystanders standing on the side of the road watching the parade, we were the ones who cheered every now and then.

When I was still in my home country, I was already thinking about how I would be treated by the locals in Thailand. I was told by relatives and friends that I would certainly get a lot of attention and interest because I look very different in appearance than a lot of the Thai population. I have fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair. I am also taller than 170cm and therefore tower over many Thai people.

I have never been the person who likes to be the center of attention or who finds it easy to approach strangers. Nevertheless, I took the risk and decided to do voluntary service abroad. It was probably the bravest decision I ever made and I don't regret it for a second.

After the few months I have already spent here, I can proudly say that I have grown as a person. It's hard to believe that there was a time when it was difficult for me to enter a supermarket alone. Or when I could barely stand in front of my classmates in high school without breaking out in a cold sweat. Today, I stand in front of thirty high schoolers not much younger than me and talk openly with them, teaching them things. I try to communicate with vendors at the market in a language so different from my native tongue, and although I'm not always understood, I don't let it get me down and I try again and again. And I walk in a parade with thousands of people and smile at everyone who looks at my hair, skin or eyes with curiosity.

I used to believe that self-confidence was something that some people were good at and I was not. Now I can say that self-confidence is something you can learn when you step out of your comfort zone. It's not easy, but it's worth it. So don't let your fears hold you back. Do it. It's something you will look back on with a smile on your face.

- Alena Nöckler